2014 NCAA Football Preview: Independents

August 27, 2014

It’s been a lot of work, and of course I’ve waited until the final day possible, but we’re at the end of the road for my conference previews.

So to close things, we’ll take a look at the only group of teams that can’t be categorized as a conference.

Here is the Independents preview.


In a few years, it may not be necessary to publish a full-fledged Independents preview. With Navy off to join the AAC next season and Notre Dame having already agreed with the ACC to a deal that allows the school to retain its TV rights yet play an abbreviated conference schedule each year, only Army and BYU can be considered fully Independent next season. Both teams have been a part of a conference in the last decade, too, so you figure that neither school would be totally opposed to re-joining one given the right opportunity.

Frankly, the DIY route in major college football has become more trouble than its worth. Sure, you get to schedule your own games and don’t have to oblige to conference rules, but thanks to conference expansion some teams are playing 75 percent of its games in-conference. It’s getting difficult to find anyone that has room to play you. And while Notre Dame benefits from a television deal that allows it to keep 100 percent of the revenue, Army and BYU aren’t attracting any major TV networks. Revenue sharing may actually be more beneficial to those schools. Lastly, the new playoff format is not very accommodating to schools not affiliated with one of the Power Five conferences. So even if a 10-2 BYU team really was as good as a 10-2 Big 12 school, you’re never going to see the Cougars win that battle as an Independent.

So if you’re a fan of those without a conference, enjoy it while you can. Because my educated guess says that there won’t be anyone doing it for a whole lot longer.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a Playoff Bid


Nope. Sorry Notre Dame fans. Not this year. And don’t tell me that since you have Everett Golson back that your offense will be so much better this season. Yes, he’s a solid quarterback. Yes, he has a decent offensive line blocking for him and will be given plenty of time to make throws or decide to tuck it and run. But the suspension of three starters plus one other reserve player will have an affect on the Fighting Irish. The schedule is extremely tough as well, with road trips to Arizona State, Florida State and USC, not to mention home dates against Michigan and Stanford. This isn’t the BCS era anymore; no team gets special privileges. You’re either one of the top four teams in the country or you’re not. No special rules for Independent schools.

While the Independents won’t put a team in the inaugural playoff, these four squads could have an impressive overall record. BYU, Navy and Notre Dame all have the ability to win at least eight games. Quarterback play from those three schools would rival almost any set of three teams in the country. But with the exception of the Fighting Irish, none of these schools have had the personnel to realistically challenge for a national title bid in quite some time. That doesn’t change this year.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


The biggest goal for the Midshipmen each year is to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. And with the way things have been going the past decade, it would be a major surprise if Ken Niumatalolo’s team didn’t beat the other two service academies and capture its 10th trophy since 2003. But thanks to a solid group of upperclassmen and a star at quarterback, Navy could crack double-digits in the wins column this season, which could give the Midshipmen some brief time in the national spotlight. Fifteen starters return to a team that finished the 2013 campaign at 9-4, and the offense is in great hands with Keenan Reynolds. The junior is the best player to suit up for Navy since Ricky Dobbs and his name is already being mentioned in the same breathe as greats like Roger Staubach.

If Reynolds continues to perform on the offensive end and the defensive line can improve a bit upon what was a mediocre run defense last season, Navy will be in for a special season. There are only a few games on the schedule where the Midshipmen won’t be favored, and they can win every one of the games in which they’re the underdog. This team is built on hard work and discipline, so it’ll be fun to see how it performs with some really talented players on the field.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player to Watch)

Taysom Hill (Jr.), Brigham Young quarterback

I wasn’t a huge fan of Hill at the beginning of last year, but after watching him several times throughout the season I was converted. Although still not a great pocket passer, Hill has a rare combination of speed and agility that allows him to extend plays long after most other quarterbacks would have had to throw the ball away or take a sack. He is not confined to the pocket and reminds me of a combination between Braxton Miller and Johnny Manziel. The only difference is, not many people know his name and he probably won’t get a serious look as an NFL quarterback.

The Cougars are replacing some of their better players on defense this year, so the way that Hill and the rest of the offense performs will go a long way in deciding how many wins BYU has by the end of the season. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s job is probably pretty safe, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a guy like Hill propel the team to a couple of extra wins that wouldn’t have been possible without such a talented guy at the quarterback position.

Out-Of-Conference Game to Watch

Ohio State vs. Navy (August 30th)

I’ve already had conversations with people about this game, and it seems like I’m the only one who is concerned for the Buckeyes in this one. The talent on the field favors Urban Meyer’s squad ten times out of ten, but the loss of Braxton Miller so close to the start of the regular season is tough. If the Buckeyes are to win this game it will be done primarily with athleticism, because it’s difficult to see any way that a redshirt freshman quarterback will be able to control the game the way that Miller may have been able to do. Now it is no question which team has the better quarterback.

I don’t know if the Midshipmen will pull off the monumental upset in Week 1. But I do think that it will be an extremely close game, with Ohio State’s defensive line needing to step up and play well against the tricky triple option offense. If that happens, then the Buckeyes win this game. If Keenan Reynolds is able to roll down the field and keep the Ohio State offense off the field, this one could get very interesting.

In-Conference Game to Watch

Navy vs. Notre Dame (November 1st)

There were only two options for this section and since the Army/Navy game is the only FBS contest taking place during the last regular season weekend, chances are if you like college football you’ll be watching it. The Midshipmen have given the Fighting Irish a tough time in recent years, nearly pulling off the upset in 2013 but coming up a little short. In 2014, both teams feel like they are capable of having spectacular seasons and this is a game that could really be of importance. Getting to 10 wins for either team likely means needing to come away from this one victorious.

Under Brian Kelly the Notre Dame defense has gotten better every year other than 2012. But against Navy, the key is playing disciplined defense at the line and at the linebacker position. The triple option cannot be stopped solely with talent and athleticism. Rather, smart players need to be in the right position to thwart the eventual pitch. Notre Dame might be in trouble after losing two starters on the defensive end, but they could be back by the time this game starts. Navy has the ability to keep up with Notre Dame on the scoreboard, so defense will be the way that the Fighting Irish win this one.

Conference Predictions

1. Brigham Young (10-2)

2. Navy (10-2, win vs. Army)

3. Notre Dame (7-5, win vs. Navy)

4. Army (3-9)

Questions from the Readers

This is a section dedicated to the readers, where I will answer the questions you have sent me through Facebook, Twitter (@KBecks_ATC) or email (kbecks@aroundthecorn.com). Unfortunately, there were no questions sent regarding the Independent teams. Feel free to ask multiple questions, as I will answer any appropriate question that is submitted in time. Thanks guys.

– K. Becks

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